March 25 – Iraq stunned the United Arab Emirates with a 1-0 win to move them to within a point of the UAE and the Qatar 2022 play-off spots with a game to go.
The Iraqis had hoped to return to Baghdad to host this crucial Asian World Cup Qualifier but had the game switched to the neutral venue of the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia at the last minute following unrest in the country.
In the end it didn’t matter with Hussein Ali rounding UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa to finish in the 53rd minute and give the points to Iraq.
With Syria beating Lebanon 3-0 earlier in the day, the UAE had entered the game knowing that a draw would be enough to take them through to the play-off rounds.
Now they will likely need to get a result at home against already qualified South Korea who have been unbeaten in World Cup 2022 qualification. The Koreans cruised to a 2-0 win over already qualified Iran to take their position at the top of the Group A table.
Iraq face bottom of the table Syria who have had a poor final qualifying campaign but found belated form to beat the Lebanese.
That game will played as Syria’s home match but at the neutral venue of the Rashid Stadium in Dubai.
Iraq will start the game favourites and with the UAE playing two hours before them, also in Dubai, they will know whether fate is in their own hands and the opportunity to progress to the play-offs is a possibility.
Waiting for either Iraq or the UAE in the play-offs is Australia who lost their chance of automatic qualification to Qatar 2022 after two late goals against them secured Japan and Saudi Arabia’s qualification.
The top two teams in each of the AFC’s final groups qualify automatically with the third placed teams playing off for the inter-continental play off slot. That match-up will be against the fifth placed team in Conmebol qualifying, likely to be one on Peru, Colombia or Chile.
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